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College football: WVU, TCU to celebrate Big 12 entry

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The Fort Worth Stockyards will be more alive than usual Saturday night when Texas Christian University celebrates its official entry into the Big 12 Conference.

The Horned Frogs are inviting the public to the Rodeo Plaza at 11:45 p.m. and counting down the final moments before they enter their new conference at midnight.

Guests from TCU and the Big 12 will be on hand, as will cheerleaders and SuperFrog, the school mascot. There's even a Merle Haggard concert.

Proof again that everything is bigger in Texas.

West Virginia will mark the same occasion later in the day Sunday with a private picnic for its teams, coaches, administrators and other exclusive guests. They'll all spend some time with the Big 12's incoming commissioner, Bob Bowlsby, and enjoy hot dogs and hamburgers.

"I think a lot of people would say it's a historic day, but it's hard to say it's a historic day when you're in the moment," WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck said. "At the end of the day, everyone is going to wake up Sunday and do what they do on a Sunday, but they'll come to a barbeque and maybe get to know the new commissioner a little.

"We've been working toward this Big 12 thing for a good seven, eight months now, but I do think as we get down the road a little, people will look back at July 1, 2012, and most folks will say, 'That really was history.' "

Technically, the Mountaineers became part of the Big 12 Oct. 28, but can't leave the Big East Conference, which has been their home in football since 1991 and all other sports since 1995, until Sunday. WVU will be the easternmost team in the Big 12 and the first from the Eastern Time Zone.  

Getting here was far from easy, though, and the business of conference affiliation began almost as soon as Luck came aboard in June 2010. He was announced as the A.D. at his alma mater June 9, the day before it looked like the Big 12 was in peril as Nebraska left for the Big Ten and Colorado left for the Pac-12.

On June 14, Luck was introduced at a press conference at the football stadium as word came out that Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would defy widespread chatter by staying in the Big 12 rather than go to the Pac-12.

"My gut told me there would continue to be movement," Luck said.

WVU never stopped tracking the activities, whether real or rumored, of other schools and conferences and was always attuned to what people were saying and thinking about the Mountaineers. Luck likened it to having a game plan for a big game and making adjustments on the go.

Last Sept. 17, Syracuse and Pittsburgh notified the Big East it was leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014. A month later, WVU was headed to the Big 12.

"Thankfully," Luck said, "we were well-prepared, we had a good plan, we made the right adjustments and we followed a winning formula."

And now, two invitations, two acceptances and two lawsuits later, it's just two days from being a reality. This is not a conclusion, though. Luck said it is a new beginning.

"It allows us, I think, to focus on things that we'd like to focus on, which is having the best athletic programs, having the best student-athletes to work with and the best coaches in the industry," he said. "It's our core business, but I think that certainly for me and many others in the athletic department and the president's office, we probably spent more time on this stuff than we did many other issues in the university. It's nice to focus on the right things now and move forward."

Luck's business remains the Big 12, but the aims have moved from getting into the conference to being successful in the conference. It's an ambitious goal that requires equally aggressive methods. WVU now has the ability to explore and implement those ideas.

"What gets me exited is that this allows us, and really, almost in a sense forces us, to really raise the bar - and not that we weren't trying hard before," Luck said. "But as we go into the Big 12, I think all of our programs, from football on down to rowing, are in a position now to where we look at everything we're doing and try to decide how we can do it even better.

"That covers everything from infrastructure to salaries to operations, the whole nine yards. There are some competitive sports in the Big 12 and we have a few sports, quite honestly, that haven't been competitive, baseball being one example and even volleyball, which is a massive step up from what we were experiencing previously. We've got a lot of work to do, but the great thing now is that we can focus on that and we don't have to worry about extraneous stuff."

Money, which was a factor in making the move to the Big 12, is the key in making it a successful move. Luck said the Mountaineers are fortunate to be doing this at a time when it's easier than ever to "unlock the value of our athletic department."

Scheduling football and basketball games is more lucrative than before and Luck's coaches are willing to play the games that grow the bank account. WVU is also in the process of bidding out its Tier 3 sponsorship and media rights and should come away with a multi-year contract worth millions of dollars annually.

Big 12 football has a stronger and more rewarding lineup of bowl games, including the newly created Champions Bowl partnership with the Southeastern Conference, and the four-team playoff that begins in 2014 will also help.

The payouts to conference members are significantly larger than what they were in the Big East. The Mountaineers aren't eligible for a full share of Big 12 revenue for their first three years, but will still make more from a 50-percent share this next year than they would have as a full-share member in the Big East.

If WVU is good, it will make money, but Luck acknowledges it will require spending money. The current athletic department budget is a little more than $60 million, but could reach $100 million in just a few years.

"My sense with that is six, eight, maybe nine years," Luck said. "It's difficult to pinpoint, but I think given what's happening at the national level with the new playoff format eventually meaning more dollars, with the stuff we're trying to do with our third-tier stuff and increasing the interest in our baseball program, it happens down the road a little bit.

"It may be 2018, 2020, 2022, but I think you'll see it. If you look at the number of schools that have crossed the $100 million mark, it's a longer list now than it was before and even a few years ago. At one point, it was just Texas and Ohio State. Now there are a lot more teams that have crept up in there and they're doing it with what I would call money from the outside."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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